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The balanced way to structure a speech, talk or presentation

Ginger Leadership Communications

Balance is one of the six qualities of an Inspiring Speaker that Ginger founder, Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, writes about in her book “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking“. But how does balance help you to structure a speech? And how do you write a speech structure which keeps the audience hooked from the opening line to the applause at the finish?

Without a strong and balanced structure, your speech will be like a gingerbread house with no icing to hold it together: just a collection of pieces that nobody can make sense of. Let’s investigate…

Writing a speech is easy.

We can all write something down on paper that might be spoken out as a speech, can’t we? It just might not be very good… But if you’re trying to be influential, or even inspiring with your speaking it’s getting the speech structure right that’s the tricky part.

One of the biggest speech writing mistakes speakers make is trying to pack in too much information into their structure. Like a gingerbread house that’s designed to be part castle, part luxury hotel, part mountain refuge, we will become confused about what your speech is built for.

Other speakers stay focused on one tiny area of their speech structure for too long and then rush the rest of the speech, like making a really beautiful door for your gingerbread house, but having nothing to attach it to.

To develop a powerful speech structure, think about the following four things –

1. Choose speech content that contains just the right amount of just the right type of information

  • Relate everything you include in your speech structure to one single purpose. That may mean you have to edit out some of the material you like the most, but if it doesn’t relate to your purpose it doesn’t belong in the speech structure.
  • Make your speech structure clear to the audience. Don’t insert unrelated anecdotes about your childhood and skip from point A to point Q.
  • Use your speech structure to stress your most important points. If you focus on a minor point too long then the audience will get the wrong idea of what’s important. Don’t be afraid to repeat your key points.
  • A classic way to structure a speech is that the introduction is 10% of your speech, content 80%, and conclusion 10%. This allows for your audience to remember the meat of your speech versus an over-long introduction or conclusion.

Clarity in public speaking is partly a function of choosing the right information

2. Create a powerful flow of information

Even if you start your speech with power and confidence, you need to keep your audience’s attention.

  • Seek a structure that turns up the intensity as you progress through your speech.
  • Keep the audience’s attention throughout your speech by building to a climax, rather than peaking too soon. Your structure should always show them a reason why they should keep listening, but don’t quite satisfy that reason until just before the end of your speech.
  • Use your structure to build that intensity over time to a crescendo then end quickly. This allows the audience to remember your peak and not a 10 minute droning ending that never ends. (Think “out with a whimper”)

3. Find your narrative

Think of a familiar or archetypical plot or storyline that you can structure your speech around. This will help your speech to be more memorable to your audience. Here are four of the most common speech narratives:

Melodrama Structure:

A story personal to the speaker with a similar structure to many movies. We meet the character and see their circumstances. Then a tragedy occurs. And finally tell how your character overcomes and triumphs over the tragedy. This speech structure creates a journey that will emotionally engage your audience and build credibility.

The Tower Structure:

This structure is all about using different layers of information that garners the audience’s attention by supporting your key message. When you (and your audience) finish building the structure together you can look at the power of the structure you’ve created.

Mystery Structure:

Structure your speech around asking a question or presenting a problem to the audience that they are desperate to know. Keep them on the edge of their seats by their desire to hear your crucial message.

Ping Pong Structure:

Another fun way to structure a speech is to present both sides of the argument in such a way that the audience wants to find out “Who wins?”.

Think carefully how to structure your talk

4. Look for a speech structure that compels your audience to act on your words.

  • Organise your thoughts so that you don’t have to make snap decisions while presenting.
  • Structure your speech so that you send your audience home remembering your key messages rather than wondering “what was that all about”?
  • Don’t be afraid to edit your speech down to the simplest possible structure. If your structure is simple (without being over simplistic) you will keep everyone on board.
  • As you establish your structure and feel confident about it, you are more able to improvise and then come back to the plan. This helps you to be more fresh and empathetic with your audience.

What’s the impact of a balanced speech structure?

We’ve all sat through speeches which start well but fizzle out over time. Or ones that fail to get going until halfway through, by which time everyone has nodded off.
At the other end of the scale, you’ve probably experienced speeches which flow well from start to finish, that keep you hooked with engaging content and a mix of light and shade.
A well-balanced structure can be the difference between a good speech and a great speech. It can help support a speaker who lacks confidence or power of delivery. And it can transform all manner of speaking scenarios, from meetings to keynote talks.
We see this in action working with executives and senior leaders across all industries.

Like the sales director who used data and detailed models throughout his pitch, bamboozling his audience with complex information from the get-go. When he worked with Ginger, we helped him change his approach to structure his pitch around a compelling story, backed up by a few topline facts. He immediately won a huge piece of business for his company by changing the structure of his talk.
Or the female leader stepping into the spotlight in a male-dominated industry, who used her talk about real estate to ‘walk’ the audience through the floors of a building. She literally built her talk around a real-life structure, giving it substance, impact and clarity in a way that was relatable and engaging. And it opened the audience’s eyes to a different way of thinking.

Powerful stuff. 

Getting started on writing your speech 

OK, so there are loads of different ways to structure a speech. How do you choose the right one for your talk?

Before you think about what you want to tell your audience, consider: 

  • Why is your audience there? What are they most interested in?
  • What’s the purpose of your talk? What do you want to change?
  • What’s the call to action – what do you want people to do as a result of your speech?
  • What’s the one thing you want them to remember? 

If you get clear on these, it’s easier to see what kind of structure would work best for your speech. And you could try out a couple of different approaches to see which one has the most impact. 

Any time invested in working on the structure of a speech will help you to be more powerful and engaging as a speaker. So, good luck in building a well-structured gingerbread house for your audience to gratefully nibble on!

Here are some courses that are relevant to you: 

Presentation Skills and Training

Talk Writing and Training

Or you can view all of our Courses.

Ginger Leadership Communications

Speaking Resources Wall of Women

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